This story was originally published in the Spring 2022 Issue of Stick & Hack Magazine under the title “Inside Course Architecture”. Become a print subscriber and get exclusive stories like this one delivered straight to your door.

The movie King Richard shows how Venus and Serena Williams grew into tennis superstars through the obsession (let’s just call it what it is) of their father, Richard Williams. In the movie, Richard explains that he developed a 78-page master plan for his children to become famous tennis players—before they were even born

Throughout the film, Richard’s domineering opinions jeopardize his relationship with Venus, Serena, and his wife. But we all know the end of the story—Venus and Serena go pro as teenagers and become two of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Parents everywhere finished the movie, locked eyes with their spouses, and said, “OK, so here’s what we’ve got to do…” But before you go all-in on Richard’s master plan, take a step back.

There’s no doubt that Richard’s daughters developed not only an unmatched talent for the game of tennis but also a strong passion for the game. Why is it then that so many parents yearning for their children to share their love for the game of golf find their efforts fall short?

“Kids get involved in sports to start with because they love it because they like it, and it’s a fun activity,” says Dr. Jean Cote, a sports psychologist at Queens University in Kingston. “I think the reason that maybe kids drop out of sports very often is that it becomes too serious, and the autonomy is taken from them. Suddenly it’s run by adults that are around them, whether it’s parents or coaches, but they’re the ones that drive the activity. It should be coming from the kids, but to be coming from the kids, it should be fun.”

Parents would do well to remember that passion comes from enthusiasm, not skill. “I think we put way too much emphasis on the skill and less on the motivation and the whole emotional aspect of sport, “ says Dr. Cote. “The introduction to sport should be about fun, and it should be about play. As kids get better at playing, then you can introduce more serious types of practice.”

Sharing golf with your kids doesn’t look like dragging them to the course with you every Saturday and hoping someday they want to do more than just drive the cart. If the goal is to develop passion, then golfing with your kids should be about having fun and being supportive, not about perfecting their putt. Focus on deliberate play, not deliberate practice.

We’ve whittled down our top 7 tips to develop your kid’s passion for golf.

#1: Show them how much you enjoy golf.

It’s tempting to fit golf into the spaces your kid isn’t. How many of us have worked on chipping in the backyard during nap time or slipped in a quick 9 after dropping the kids off at a birthday party?

It’s time to show your kids how fun golf is. Let’s face it—golf can be frustrating. But don’t show your kids that playing golf means getting mad, throwing clubs, or beating yourself up. Laugh at your mistakes, and show them how fun it is to play, even when you hit a bad round.

#2: Engage with them while you golf.

Kids are big-time communicators. So expecting them to sit quietly while you slam drive after drive isn’t exactly enjoyable, is it?

Talk out loud to your kids while you’re golfing. Tell them what you love about the game, and ask them how it makes them feel. Even better, ask for their help (even if it’s not helpful). After a bad shot, ask for their advice or let them recommend your next club. You won’t hit the round of your life, but you’ll give your kids the feeling that they have something to offer.

#3: Keep it simple.

Unless your kid has one of those brains that needs to know every little detail about a topic, don’t overwhelm them with information about golf. Keep the game simple—don’t focus too much on rules, grips, or club types at first. 

Let them simply experience the joy of swinging a club and hitting something. No, you’re not going to mess up their game for life—you’re going to keep them engaged. “The first activity that you do with young children is you kick a ball or you throw a ball or you start running. Those activities are very playful, that’s how you get introduced to sport. You develop a relationship with the game that allows you to keep going,” says Dr. Cote.

Once their interest is piqued, you can dive into the more technical aspects of the game.

#4: Stay focused.

No, not on their progress—stay focused on the time you’re spending together. “I just hit the best round of my life with my 7-year-old beside me” is not a sentence you’re ever going to find yourself saying. You better come to terms with that now.

When golfing with your kids, your mantra should be, “I may not play good golf (and that’s OK).” You’re golfing together to bring enjoyment to them and, by extension, yourself.

#5: Don’t be their coach.

“If you’re a kid, the most annoying thing is your parents telling you what to do to not make mistakes…Kids learn how to play a game by playing it, and we know that from a lot of research. So I think it’s very important to allow the kids to experience mistakes and to get them to think, ‘OK, what did you do wrong?’ Ask questions instead of telling them what to do,” advises Dr. Cote.

As a parent, your only job is to be their cheerleader. Coaching them yourself sends the message that you’re scrutinizing their game every time you’re together.

#6: Focus on the short game.

While it’s fun to whack a long drive, the great shots can be few and far between, especially when you’re first learning. The satisfaction of nailing a putt, however, is more readily attainable. 

“Every sport has to think about changing the game so it fits the maturation level and physical capacity of the kids. You don’t start playing soccer on a regular field with the same number of players. It’s not the adult game,” says Dr. Cote.

Give your kids plenty of time to find small successes in their short game instead of focusing on hitting 18 holes from start to finish. Bonus tip: When you do take them to the course, golf at twilight—it won’t be busy, so they won’t feel rushed by groups behind them.

Tip #7: Let Golf “Games” Be as Meaningful as Golf “Matches”

You love golf, so you probably enjoy a fun round of Top Golf or mini golf as much as anyone. These golf “games” remind us all how fun the sport can be. Maybe you can’t take your kid to mini golf every weekend, but can you let them hit water balloons instead of golf balls? You bet!

Remember, deliberate play, not deliberate practice, is the key to developing enthusiasm for sports. Prioritize playful golf just as much (or more!) than actual strokes.

There’s no one formula to sharing your passion for golf with your kids, but Dr. Cote has some encouraging words: “If it’s cheap enough and accessible so they can develop their skill and develop their enthusiasm, suddenly they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’d like to get better.’ Now it’s coming from them—that’s a big step in terms of motivation.” 

Our advice? Keep showing up and playing with your kid, and you’ll witness them develop a passion for something—hopefully, golf.